Group of automakers plans major expansion of electric vehicle chargers

The new chargers could make driving easier for non-Tesla EV owners.

By Alexandra Hart & Michael MarksJuly 28, 2023 2:06 pm, ,

There are currently about 30,000 electric car chargers throughout North America, the lion’s share of which belong to Austin-based Tesla.

But earlier this week, a group of seven major automakers announced a plan to double that number. The group includes General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Stellantis.

Jonathan Gitlin, automotive editor at Ars Technica, spoke to the Texas Standard about the plan. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: This is a big group. How did they come together to form this alliance for charging stations?

Jonathan Gitlin: That’s a great question.

So for a long time, there’s been kind of competing standards of different plugs that people use to charge EVs and Tesla had its own style, which they recently called the “North American Charging Standard.”

As you mentioned, the bulk of the high speed charges in the country are Tesla Superchargers. If you have a Tesla, it’s a really good experience because the charge is designed to work with the cars. Just plug it in and it almost never fails and it charges you up and you go.

Everyone else was using a standard called CCS1, which was a bit bulkier and it was kind of put together by a committee. And it doesn’t always work. And if you have an EV that’s not a Tesla and you’ve tried to do a long drive in it, you probably have at least one horror story of like it not working.

So Tesla had opened up their standards in November last year and said to other automakers, “If you want to come and license it, then come and talk to us and do that.” And for a while nothing happened. And then the government passed some legislation, the New Electric Vehicle Infrastructure funding, which provides like $5 billion to build new high speed chargers across the country. One of the conditions for NEVI funding was that the chargers can have more than one plug, but you have to have CCS.

Then about three or four weeks after that was all finalized, Ford announced, “hey, we’re actually we’re going to switch to Tesla’s plug and we’ve gained access.” And that means all Ford EVs will be able to use Tesla’s Superchargers as well as the other ones. And that started a bit of a flood in the industry and we’ve had a whole bunch of companies, including a bunch of the ones that have signed that are part of this new group, have moved to this new plug. But now they’ve decided in addition to getting access to these 12,000 Tesla Superchargers, they’ve decided actually “we want to learn from that and maybe apply what Tesla’s done and see if we can replicate it.”

Fingers crossed it works. The thing is, when Volkswagen got sued for cheating on their diesel emissions, part of the requirement for that was that they had to spend $4 billion on a charging network, which they’ve done. It’s called Electrify America and it’s quite ubiquitous. There are quite a lot of charges out there. I think they have about, I want to say, 3 or 4,000 now, and they’re relatively reliable by the standards of a not-Tesla supercharger, which means they’re not very reliable at all.

So I think it’s quite interesting that these seven automakers have decided, instead of investing in Electrify America, which is kind of already out there, they’re going to spin off their own thing.

Jessie Curneal / KUT

Tesla owner Adam Masonbrink, unplugs the supercharger from his vehicle after a charge in Austin.

Now, for those of us who aren’t as familiar, I mean, in my brain, I kind of break it down to Apple and Android, right? Like there’s sort of two systems. Are their two different plugs?

So there are two different plugs. Really there’s three, but the third one we won’t worry about because it’s only one car uses it.

The actual software and the communication protocols are now the same between the two different plugs that are common. So what will happen is it’s really just the actual plastic plug and the charging cable is different, really.

So what’s going to happen next year is a lot of the companies that have adopted this new standard are going to ship cars with an adapter that, for example, if you had, you know, a USB-C cable and you’ve a Lightning adapter so you can plug your iPhone into. It will be like that.

And then in 2025, everyone’s going to start just building the the easier plug into their cars.

And this seems like a big shift. Is this going to make it easier for people who have just been hesitant to go EV because of the risk of not having something nearby where they can plug into? 


So there’s a bit of a perception problem I think with charging stations and that, you know, when you’re driving down the freeway, you see big signs poking up above the trees telling you where the nearest gas station is. You know, there are actually quite a lot of EV charging stations now off freeways, but because they’re often either located at gas stations or they might be like, you know, a mile away from the road, they don’t have a big sign. So people don’t see that they’re there.

But certainly this will massively expand the numbers, although they say they want to add 30,000 new charge points, they haven’t given us a timeline for like how quickly those are all going to roll.

Some of it might depend on how quickly they can build them. There are requirements in the funding that, you know, the chargers have to be built with U.S.-made components. And so there might be supply chain issues there in the first year or two, I think as supplies ramp up.

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It seems like Tesla’s not had some great news lately as far as quarters go. Is this a boon for Tesla, though? I mean, do they get to take some percentage of all this investment since it’s their technology? Is this a big win for the company?

No one really knows. Tesla isn’t saying.

I’ve asked some of the car companies what the terms of the license were, if they have to invest in the supercharger network. They all say “talk to Tesla,” but Tesla got rid of its press office a few years ago so there’s no one at Tesla to talk to.

In their recent financial reports, there was a line in there for services. They did mention on the call that I think some of that was related to the licensing of the charger standard, but exactly how much it’s worth to them, I’m not sure yet.

So what do you think is the next step? I mean, this seems like a really big investment from automakers. You mentioned the federal government is investing in this infrastructure as well. Is it just people sort of taking the leap or having a friend who does it and seeing that it works? 

So the easiest way to get someone to be convinced about an electric car is let them drive one for about 5 minutes. But right now, I think the biggest impediment to people adopting them is just they’re really expensive.

You know, the Chevrolet Bolt is a really good, dependable EV that you can buy for less than $30,000 and GM is ending production of that this year, although they did just announced they will bring it back. But again, there’s no date for when the next one will sell.

The Tesla Model 3 is quite cheap now also with with rebates, but most EVs, you know, will cost you $50-$60,000, and that’s a lot.

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